Zappa Plays Zappa

Charleston Music Hall

Mon. July 27

Dweezil Zappa brought his phenomenal Frank Zappa tribute show “Zappa Plays Zappa” to Charleston on Monday night and completely destroyed the Charleston Music Hall. If you weren’t there, go ahead and kick yourself in the ass because you missed what is sure to be one of — if not the best show of the year.

For over two hours, the band delivered an inspired performance. Concentrating mostly from late-’60s to mid-’70s Frank stuff, ZPZ was incredibly tight and precise. The Music Hall is one of the best places to see any live performance, especially one of this caliber. It sounds great, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Such was the case Monday night.

There was a good mix of people of all ages in this festive audience. Of course, the die-hard Frank fans were there, but there were also a lot of rookies in attendance, which one of the main goals of ZPZ. Many heavy hitters from the Charleston music scene peppered the crowd, undoubtedly taking notes. I got the feeling there was going to be a lot of wood-shedding going on after the show (myself included).

Everything was first-class — the mix, song selection, performance, musicality, energy, and audience appreciation. But if you know Frank Zappa music, this is exactly what you’d expect. The only things lacking may have been the humor and delightfully insane personality of all the characters found in Frank’s wild, wonderful bands through the years. But since it was clear that the only agenda was to honor the music and let it do the talking, we didn’t miss the circus stuff at all. All the technical chops and the burning grooves were right on time. The crowd knew it. The band knew it. And Dweezil was all-smiles the whole night.

The band came out strong right out of the gate and hit hard with “Apostrophe” (Apostrophe (‘)), complete with a wicked bass solo from Pete Griffin. They segued from “Montana” (Over-Nite Sensation) into three songs from Roxy & Elsewhere, and they rocked all the way through to the very last “Om Shanti” of the show’s closer, “Cosmik Debris” (Apostrophe(‘)).

High points of the two-hour set included a very apropos “Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy” (Bongo Fury); a special dedication of “Peaches En Regalia” (Hot Rats) for a six-year-old Zappa fan in the audience; singer Ben Thomas’ improvised interpretive ballet that found him running wildly through the audience and doing a series of his version of what might loosely could be called cartwheels to “The Black Page #2” (Baby Snakes); and an amazing section of musical improv, consisting of Dweezil doing Frank’s trademark “mad composer” routine during “A Pound For A Brown On The Bus” (Uncle Meat). Thomas’ improvised vocal solo here — complete with audience participation — was very impressive and seemed to win the approval of Dweezil as well.

Keyboardist/saxophonist/vocalist Scheila Gonzales’ technique and mannerisms were much appreciated. And, of course, Dweezil’s playing and overall “Frankness” won the favor of everyone. (It’s almost scary how much he nails all that stuff).

The encore brought even more fireworks. The band was happy to return for an appreciative audience that could no longer contain itself and let loose, dancing and singing along to the crowd-pleasers, “Yellow Snow” (Apostrophe(‘)), “San Ber’dino” (One Size Fits All), “Willie The Pimp” (Hot Rats), and the evening’s final number, “I’m The Slime” (Over-Nite Sensation). The band graciously stuck around afterward, signed autographs from the stage-front, and chatted with the enamored crowd.

On a break from their tour with Dream Theater, where FZF usually opens all the shows with a short hour-and-change set, they seemed to enjoy being able to stretch out and really play. Especially for such an enthusiastic crowd. “It’s always cool to play a full show,” rhythm guitarist Jamie Kime told me after the show. “And Charleston is a great crowd … This was a very special show for us.” It was obvious that we felt the same way. As local musician and booking agent Bryan Mahanes so eloquently put it, “I haven’t felt that way about a show since I was a teenage girl!”

Frank would have been pleased.

Set List:

1. Apostrophe

2. Montana

3. Village Of The Sun

4. Enchidna’s Arf

5. Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?

6. Dirty Love

7. Magic Fingers

8. Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy

9. Peaches En Regalia

10. The Black Page #1

11. The Black Page #2

12. Bamboozled By Love

13. Pound For A Brown On A Bus

14. Lucille

15. Outside Now

16. Purple Lagoon

17. Inca Roads

18. Cosmik Debris


19. Yellow Snow

20. San Ber’dino

21. Willie The Pimp

22. I’m The Slime